Fee Fi Foe Film: Nebraska Offense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 20th, 2018 at 10:40 AM

The film: I hate how much I respect Scott Frost. I hate that Michigan is going to be locked into playing against this guy every year while Michigan State gets to pad every conference record with Minnesota (that was OUR rival!). I hate that the only guy in the world who could have made Nebraska into NEBRASKA again is the kind of Nebraska fan who would take the Nebraska job when Florida and LSU were ready to chuck $Texas at him. I hate that I like Frost more for doing so. I hate that I couldn't get through two drives (both which ended in turnovers) without grabbing my forehead to make sure my skull had a little extra buttressing as it tried to process everything Frost was doing. I hate myself for clipping six out of the first 11 plays.

Anyway Nebraska Year Zero outgained Colorado 565 yards to 395, outrushed their old Big 8 rival 329 yards to 44, had a lead, and were driving deep into Buffalos territory in the 4th quarter when their freshman phenom quarterback injured his knee.

Personnel: My diagram:



[PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image), official depth chart]

True freshman starting QB Adrian Martinez missed most of his senior year with a shoulder injury, left the Colorado game late with a knee injury and did not play in Nebraska's subsequent 24-19 loss to the Troy Trojans of Troy (We're from Troy!) He's a game-time decision. When he's healthy he's a future star. If he can't go things drop pretty far: RS freshman Tristan Gebbia transferred when Martinez won the job, so if Martinez can't go it's back to walk-on QB Andrew Bunch, who started against Troy last week.

WR Stanley Morgan was 14 receiving yards short of 1,000 last year, second in the Big Ten only to D.J. Moore. JuCo transfer WR Mike Williams has shored up the spot opposite him so they can keep excellent Slot J.D. Spielman where he belongs, backed up by 2017 Top-50 recruit Tyjon Lindsey, who had a committable Ohio State offer.

All of the tight ends are receiver-ish and line up like receivers. Jack Stoll appeared in every game last year and spends as much time as a Flex TE as he does inline or at H-back. The other TEs in the rotation, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal are super-tall redshirt freshmen.

The line is experienced, and though they struggled at run blocking last year they kept former QB Tanner Lee upright (8th in 2017 adj. sack rate). The only one not back is former center Michael Decker, who left football with eligibility remaining. New C Cole Conrad is a poorer man's Graham Glasgow—the former walk-on started 12 games at guard or tackle over two season before moving to the middle this fall. RG Tanner Farmer is a longtime PFF favorite, however fellow longtime starter LG Jerald Foster tends to be really good against bad teams, really bad against good teams, and really REALLY grabby. LT Brenden Jaimes struggled last year when thrust onto the field as a true freshman, but he's up to 300 pounds on his NFL left tackle frame and starting to look the part. Right tackle is back to the guy Conrad replaced last year, Matt Farniok, who's bleah at pass protection and not much help on runs.

The backfied sorely misses feature back Tre Bryant, who retired from football late in fall practice. As befits a Scott Frost team they use a rotation of them. RB Greg Bell was the nation's top JuCo prospect this year, and is averaging a smooth 6.22 YPC; he has excellent vision and good acceleration but will get caught from behind. Freshman RB Maurice Washington caught up to Bell in carries and yardage by bouncing outside on Troy—he's lengthy but hard to bring down on first contact. Last year's nominal starter Devine Ozigbo actually has one more carry than Washington right now; he's a burly pile-mover and the designated short-yardage back.

[After THE JUMP: Inside the mind of a genius]


Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? They're a mix of everything, master of none. With the receiver depth chart not very usable beyond the backup slot receiver they mostly stick to 3-wide personnel, occasionally going a drive with two tight ends, who are all big receivers. They'll motion those guys and the RBs around to get 4- and 5-wide looks.

Formation Run RPO PA Pass
Shotgun 16 6 4 21
Pistol 29 - 7 2

I counted it as Pistol this game if the RB was a yard or more behind the QB, since that was almost always a run tip or play-action. The two passes were on the last clock drive. I didn't count any the stuff with bubble reads as RPOs—there were 13 of them.

There were at least TWENTY-FIVE different running plays I charted. The only plays they ran as any kind of base were the Bubble/Inside Zone play (six times) and Zone Read, which had small variations each time. The bubble package also had Duo, Outside Zone, Power, QB Power, QB Power with a tackle pulling, and zone read with a pulling backside TE. There were two zone reads with a pulling guard, one Power Read/Inverted Veer, four regular Power plays, a jet package, two split zones, four triple options…I'm not going to list them all.

The plan was to run early and often.

Down Run RPO PA Pass
1st 19 3 8 9
2nd 21 1 2 5
3rd & 4th 5 2 1 9

Hurry it up or grind it out? Tempo. Usually there were more than 20 seconds on the clock when they snapped the ball, and they were so bad at dialing it down that they left Colorado two-and-a-half minutes for their final drive. That ended up working in Nebraska's favor because Colorado scored quickly.

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): The injury could make this moot but I wanted to give the full player his due first. Martinez is an Athlete. While his top gear is only good, that's plenty to make him a dangerous threat on the ground, and as all the options and QB runs in the playcalling above can testify, they use those legs in the offense.

You know how Maryland and Ohio State like to go unbalanced to run the running backs out the back side in space? Nebraska would rather the backs follow the blocking and Martinez be the guy outrunning your safeties to the edge.

Martinez will use his legs as a second read, and is quite slippery if you don't wrap him up or bring help. I'd give him an 8 or 9 if he was healthy, where 8 is a guy you could insert at running back. Losing Martinez/Martinez's ability to run is a major blow.

Versus the Troy Trojans of Troy (We're from Troy!) backup Andrew Bunch had 7 rushes for 28 yards for 4 YPC excluding sacks (and passed for just 5.13 YPA). He escaped one pressure and gave a fair demonstration of what the fight or flight response in humans is capable of. This runner is as frightening as: Wilton Speight running from a bear. 2.

Zook Factor: Zero. Scott Frost is the same age as the average MGoBlog reader and has played as much Madden. He went for it on 4th and 2 and 4th and 1 in this game, though they converted neither. He also runs 3rd down plays that are likely to get him close to a first down.

Dangerman: There are a few. With Wisconsin's injury/off-field situation Nebraska now claims the best group of wideouts in the West. I didn't get to see much from Stanley Morgan Jr. in this game but "leading returning receiver in the conference" speaks for itself. A sampling:

The slot receivers are both tough to corral, but the one that Michigan really should worry about is J.D. Spielman, who gets a lot of YAC on the many quick passes that come his way and can murder you over the top (WARNING: THIS IS A SLOT FADE):

I also gave a star to two of their offensive linemen. RG Tanner Farmer has been a person-mover and PFF fave-rave for years despite some awful play around him. But I was far more envious of their true sophomore LT Brenden Jaimes, who was a wall. Colorado and scheme have something to do with it, but when asked to pass block Jaimes wasn't beaten once. He still makes the occasional youthful biff—his false start with 25 seconds left was a killer. But the true freshman who was barely surviving last year has now progressed to a stalwart pass protector who gets the occasional plus in the run game too.


Martinez was really fun to watch. He's got a weird throwing motion, as Nebraska Martinezii must. They keep things pretty simple for him (more on that in the summary) as when they opened up the field for him he tended to run or throw it into coverage.

  Good   Neutral   Bad   Ovr
Martinez-Colorado 5+++ 5 (3) 3   2 2   - 2 1 2x   68% -
Bunch-Colorado 1 3 -   2 -   - 1 2 -   57% -
Bunch-Troy 3 5 (8) 1   2 1   - 4 2x (1) 5xx   45% -

When he's hale again he can do this:

But he's probably not hale, and if he's playing hurt against Winovich and Gary with a right tackle problem and an offense that requires him to run the ball a lot...well...we're probably going to see the walk-on some.

I sped through the Troy game too so I could get a better look at Bunch. He's…a walk-on. Bunch was never comfortable in the pocket, bailing early then trying to hit tiny windows on the run. The first time this went to his tight end, who caught it then fumbled--I gave him a "DO" because he put it in the #ButtZone but you don't really want your QB making that throw.

The second time he tried that it was picked off. He had a nice TD throw to Stanley Morgan that two defenders might have had a play on if they turned around. I gave him "DO" for that too. He also got a ball to a falling Morgan in the only spot he could fit it while getting drilled. Also he threw into double coverage a lot. Also he fumbled four times. Also a week ago they left Martinez on the sideline with 2:30 left down 24-19 to a Sun Belt team, which either shows extraordinary concern for his QB's well-being from Scott Frost, or that it's going to be a lot more than a week before Martinez can really offer better.

Best guess: Martinez plays, but his knee doesn't.


The only guy on this offense who has to really be protected is the right tackle, #71 Matt Farniok. Nebraska often had a TE coming across the formation to assist him, and he tends to tip pass by lining up in the backfield:


The real danger in this offense is Scott Frost. He's my pick for best offensive mind in college football, and I doubt there's going to be much controversy to that. Let me show you some of the looks Colorado had to deal with:

I called this "Double-G" because it's Down G to both sides:

Even basic things like Power-O can have a weird result thanks to the experience of the OL. And he's built in RPOs and weird second reads to turn a thing as basic as Outside Zone into a complicated adventure I needed to draw up to see what was going on:

I tried to draw up what I think is going on here:


Don't quote me on all those reads, but it's a fascinating concept. The idea here is to freeze everyone on the backside with reads and then outflank the defense on the field side. They motion the TE across the formation to flip the defense and get a man-or-zone read. On the snap they Run-Pass Option the SAM: if he's blitzing they have a quick hook route to get the first down before the MLB or SS can get down on that. I'm not sure if Martinez is reading the MIKE after that, or maybe reading what gap the nose goes into while making the MIKE think he's being read?


The backside is pass-blocking so there's room to run perhaps between the LT and LG. Anyway the MLB stays inside and the nose gets sealed by the center despite getting free for a moment. On the playside the right guard (Tanner Farmer) used all this time to reach block the DT.

That DT gets so wide and upfield though that Bell decides to cut inside of it. That screws up the RT's blocking angle on the WLB and makes the MLB relevant again—Bell collides with both LBs and the ball pops loose. Anyway all those reads freeze the defense inside and you can see very clearly how dangerous a run between Farmer (63) and Stoll (86) can be.

Scott Frost also uses a ton of motion—somebody motioned before almost half (42/89) of the snaps I charted. Some of that, like above, is to not let the defense feel comfortable in their assignments before the next thing happens to them. But I think Frost also uses that motion to make the pre-snap reads easier on his freshman quarterback. I'll show you an example

This play is a good example of how the motion reveals the defensive coverage scheme. The defense doesn't exchange here which confirms Taylor's pre-snap read that Colorado is in a zone defense (based on the corners playing off). If Martinez sees man-to-man on the Spielman travel he can throw a quick pick route to Spielman on the frontside. Since he sees zone his first read converts to the quick out to Stanley Morgan. Either way as long as Martinez makes the correct pre-snap read he should have a quick and easy five yards to one of his two best playmakers, with a chance for more.

However it's still a true freshman, who sat out last year, not an NFL quarterback. When that first, simple read is wrong, he's quite liable to short-circuit:

For now his coach is keeping things very simple and focusing on the run game. Unfortunately for the future, it's only a matter of time until Martinez is fully operational, if he can stay healthy.

Frost also likes to get a lot of playmakers on the field and use them at the things they're good at. Here they've got their regular three-wide personnel on the field (with the more RB-like slot Tyjon Lindsey in for normal slot J.D. Spielman). This might motion into something else; this time it was a double screen: Martinez read the SAM to see if he'd go with the Lindsey side, and then threw a tunnel screen to the RB. Colorado's CB was all over it.


It's Year Zero in the Scott Frost era. He's got a very experienced offensive line that's in very similar shape to the one Harbaugh inherited from Hoke, some excellent playmakers at wide receiver, a true freshman quarterback with injury issues, and no backups except at running back because they all are. But this is Frost we're talking about, so he's scheming and weaving them into a more than functional offense that's going to make even the soundest defense break down when they can't keep up.

Godspeed, Don.



September 20th, 2018 at 10:59 AM ^

After seeing Wimbush and SMU-backup both get chunks on the ground, and confuse our secondary with motions, I really want Martinez to be healthy on Saturday.

Gives us another shot at figuring out how to stop a mobile qb and complex offense, before we face the real threats in the B1G with Lewerke, McSorley, and Haskins. If noodle arm Wimbush and a backup SMU QB can look productive against us, then we better hope for some changes and improvements before we face the big boys. Home against Nebraska is the perfect opportunity to iron out all the wrinkles. 


September 20th, 2018 at 11:00 AM ^

This game seems like it will be great for getting film of the occasional bust by the defense to work on for OSU. Also, let’s not get ahead of ourselves calling Frost the best offensive mind in the game. I think part of that is his being shiny and new, and the other part is Seth’s love of all things spread. Sure, they were able to put up a bunch of yards on Colorado, but many teams will. Let’s wait a couple of years to see how he does against good defenses before making such sweeping declarations.


September 20th, 2018 at 11:17 AM ^

Frost was the OC at Oregon and did some great work at UCF.  I get where your going but I just wanted to make sure you knew  Seth is not making his proclamation based off 1 game against Colorado.  

I like Frost and agree with Seth that signing up to play Nebraska each year is some fucked up scheduling.  I don't get that at all.  The most we should play anyone from the West is 2 years home and home then switch.   


September 20th, 2018 at 11:53 AM ^

I know he has good experience, but let’s not forget that Harbaugh’s offense at Stanford was awesome too. Here? It’s been fairly disappointing, likely in part because Big Ten defenses are better than PAC 12 defenses and also due to personnel. I’m just a bit more cautious in making such broad statements, I guess. He is certainly a great offensive mind, my issue is with definitively calling him the best. Also, does no one else see a flaw in running your only scholarship QB as much as he did against Colorado? I get that that’s his scheme and he’s trying to win, but would also seem reasonable to adjust the scheme, given the circumstances.

Mr Grainger

September 20th, 2018 at 12:26 PM ^

I think that's why they keep saying Martinez is a game time decision even though he is reportedly practicing this week. They need to be certain that he is 100 percent because if he is not and Michigan damages him even more their whole season is shot. Their thinking may be that it's better to miss him for one more game than to lose him for the rest of the season. Frost has even made comments to that effect.


September 21st, 2018 at 4:01 AM ^

You said, “let’s see how he does against good defenses” but we have, based on his OC experience to date (Oregon, UCF, Neb).    What else are we supposed to be waiting for?   The guy has shown himself to be a very good offensive schemer to date - period.   That is what Seth was referring to.  We understand you disagree but you’ll need to provide more example than just that.


September 20th, 2018 at 11:24 AM ^

Facing Scott Frost's offense every year is going to suck.  He combines old school Big 8 option play with modern sensibilities and concepts.  When I watched CFU last year I saw some stuff that I hadn't seen since the 90s, like the QB running a speed option and pitching the ball to the RB when he is five yards past the LOS. 


September 20th, 2018 at 3:19 PM ^

I wonder if he's coaching up this up:

Before Taylor Martinez started making come-from-behind victories a regular occurrence, there was one that was special - the Miracle at Missouri. In 1997, Nebraska was ranked #1 (edit:  I scoff) and was facing Missouri, who wasn't the pushover that they had been for much of the previous fifteen years. It was a tight game throughout, and in the fourth quarter, Missouri took a 38-31 lead on a Corby Jones touchdown pass. Nebraska's subsequent drive stalled and Nebraska had to punt the ball away with just over three minutes left in the game. Things looked awfully bleak from my perspective in section 14 of the south end zone of Faurot Field. I kept telling my girlfriend that "you've gotta believe." Over and over. I'm sure she was ready to slug me after I said it for the tenth time as the game closed. The Blackshirts held, and Missouri punted the ball back to Nebraska with just over a minute to go.

The improbable happened. Scott Frost led the Huskers down the field, and as time expired, fired a pass to wingback Shevin Wiggins in the end zone. Wiggins dropped the ball as he fell to the ground, and the ball inexplicably bounced off of Wiggins' foot and into the hands of freshman Matt Davison just before it fell to the ground incomplete. After the extra point, the game went into overtime, but the demoralized Tigers were no match. Scott Frost scored on a 12 yard run on the opening possession of overtime, and Missouri simply couldn't recover. The Huskers won 45-38 on one of the most incredible plays in college football history...and went on to finish the season undefeated and claim a share of the 1997 national championship (edit: I scoff).


September 20th, 2018 at 11:27 AM ^

Should be a fun game! A challenge Brown should be more than ready for. Let's flex our muscle on defense a bit and show we can still be a top 10 defense instead of a top 25 we've shown to be so far!


September 20th, 2018 at 12:09 PM ^

The issue is 3rd down. Michigan is forcing a lot of 3rd down and longs and letting the opponent convert. So we are witnessing long drives and it makes it feel worse than it is. For example a team is in 3rd and 8 and converts by a yard it works out to 3.7 ypp (11/3). To the fancy stats it is an elite defense but the offense is still on the field. We need to take advantage of the 3rd and longs forced and get the offense off the field. 


September 20th, 2018 at 4:19 PM ^

Man, I hope this is how it goes.  Our defense has shown some chinks in these first 3 games.  I am a huge Don Brown fan, and love the way these guys play.  I hope we avoid the busts and use this Nebraska O as practice against a seemingly mobile quarterback (assuming their starter is back).  My prediction: M: 35 N: 10


September 21st, 2018 at 9:24 AM ^

We have 3 interceptions in 3 games, with Watson dropping 1 or 2 more opportunities, and Hill just missing out on at least one too. In addition, we have 14 PBU's (according to the boxscores) in those three games. 

This is not an issue at all. 

Face/hand guarding is completely reasonable in certain situations.

Goggles Paisano

September 21st, 2018 at 6:15 AM ^

Watch football all day saturday and you will see 100 similar tackles that go uncalled.  That call was not in the spirit of why the rule was established.  Jay Harbaugh was quite eloquent in how he put it in his presser when asked about it.  It was to protect a defenseless player from a defender that intentionally goes after his head with the crown of his helmet.  A RB with the ball running between the tackles is anything but defenseless.  That call was 100% football and 100% horseshit.  


September 20th, 2018 at 11:55 AM ^

Anyone else getting super nervous for Saturday now?

If Martinez is healthy they really look like they could be trouble.

Wondering with Hudson out for the first half if it might be advantageous for M to come out in the nickel and put Watson or Hill on Spielman.  



September 20th, 2018 at 1:25 PM ^

I’ m always nervous before a game, but Michigan is the better team regardless of Martinez’s health. 

Michigan has defended better QBs and offenses than what NEB can present at this point. UM has a coordinator who has a ton of experience in defending the spread. 

My chief concern is UM’s OL. If they can hold up UM should win comfortably no matter what happens with Martinez.


September 20th, 2018 at 11:58 AM ^

If Martinez plays, UN will score 20, maybe 24.  Which I don't think will be bad, except that it will look awful.  We can expect a couple of big plays by the WRs, a couple by the RBs, and a couple by the QB.  As well as a couple of broken plays that work in their favor - luck of the draw type things.  But I don't see a lot of sustained drives against a Don Brown defense that was designed to stop spread offenses.  That's a competent offense, and it will score some points.  But so will UM's offense - it will score more, and do a better job of controlling the clock.

I don't care how it looks, so long as the win is notched. 


September 20th, 2018 at 12:03 PM ^

Another thing that I hope to see is JKP coming off injury to tell us what flavor gum the slot receiver chewed before the game.  I know he can cover like a corner, so maybe that will help with some of that slot fade bullshit we've seen?


September 20th, 2018 at 12:32 PM ^

Is the UofM/Neb and MSU/MIN match-up just how the "random/rotating" schedule slots out through 2025 or are there still "Protected Crossover Rivalries"?  As far as I know Purdue/Indiana (aka Smart Brother/Pretty Sister Bowl) is the only protected cross-division rivalry.

Cereal Killer

September 20th, 2018 at 12:37 PM ^

Question for you X and O types:  On one of the clips in this post, Nebraska's linemen all lay down/go low at the snap.  I noticed that a couple of times from SMU also.   What is going on there?   What is the O trying to accomplish, and on what sort of play is that tactic supposed to be productive?

Thanks in advance.


September 20th, 2018 at 1:30 PM ^


I have no clue how to embed videos, and I'm not an X/O kinda guy, but I remember this TD vs Alabama. The entire OL chops, and gives the QB enough time to find a WR open for their only TD. So I can only assume it's a way for a poor OL to "block" an elite DL to give the QB at least 3 seconds in the pocket. 


September 20th, 2018 at 2:17 PM ^

The purpose of it is to slow down pass rushers from pinning their ears back and if you can take them down, even better. It's supposed to give a QB a beat longer to get the ball out quick. It tends to be a quick hitter play.

The best way for DL to combat it is to defeat this type of block by using your hands and balance to stay upright and then try to swat the ball in the air.


September 20th, 2018 at 3:10 PM ^

I meant to get in a word in about that and it was getting long. It's called chip blocking. If you suck at blocking and just need a quick second you just take out the defenders' knees and once they're up the QB's on his own. Air Force does a lot of it. Teams hate chip blockers because there's a high risk of injury and it's a cheap way get a block. 

Communist Football

September 20th, 2018 at 12:43 PM ^

I share Seth's deep frustration at the fact that OSU AD Gene Smith, who headed the B1G scheduling committee, massively outwitted Dave Brandon to get us 6 years of Wisconsin and 6 years of Nebraska, in that order.

For those interested, Penn State's 6-years crossovers are Iowa 2016-21, and Illinois 2022-27. MSU's are Northwestern 2016-21, and Minnesota 2022-27. OSU's are Nebraska 2016-21 and Wisconsin 2022-27.

I wonder who our next 6-year crossover will be after Nebraska is done, assuming the B1G even sticks to that format, which they claim to be intending to do (but notice some of the oddities):

Beginning with the 2022 season, every annual cross-divisional series will rotate except for Indiana-Purdue, which is permanent. From 2016-2021, Nebraska-Ohio State, Iowa-Penn State, Wisconsin-Michigan, Northwestern-Michigan State, Minnesota-Maryland and Illinois-Rutgers were scheduled as annual games. Those series were selected based on competitive equality.

For the six-year block from 2022-2027, all crossover series were drawn randomly. They include: Nebraska-Michigan, Wisconsin-Ohio State, Iowa-Rutgers, Minnesota-Michigan State, Northwestern-Maryland and Illinois-Penn State.

League officials have arranged future rotations over a 36-year time frame so every team in each division plays each other 16 times, except for Indiana and Purdue, which meet 36 times. The Hoosiers and Boilermakers will face each cross-divisional opponent 12 times over 36 years.